Everyone seeks that lovely browned crust that looks great before you’ve even taken a bite into it. Pretty easy to achieve if you have a professional pizza oven – but home cooks? Let’s talk about some ways to get a better crust.
Why didn’t my pizza crust brown?
- Not cooked for long enough
- The wrong flour was used
- The oven was not hot enough
- Didn’t use the right equipment
- Dough was over fermented
- Consider sugar as an ingredient
- Consider fermenting for longer
Here are some explanations and some adjustments you can make to your pizza making.
Not Cooked For Long Enough
This is pretty obvious, but let’s start here first. Browning happens from the “Maillard reaction” – where amino acids and sugars react at higher temperatures. Think searing steaks, toasting marshmallows and crusty bread. We need to expose the pizza crust to heat for long enough for this to happen.
Most beginner pizza makers will not cook the pizza for long enough, including me when I started. I think there is a feeling you might overcook the pizza. But in reality, the pizza can take more cooking than you think. And extending the cooking time for a few minutes more than you initially think, it will fully brown the cheese and get the crust to go darker.
Look at the two following images. The first might be seen as “done” from a beginner, but it is still lacking color in the crust. The second image is when the pizza is really done. Probably about 2-3 minutes between the images.
In a home oven I would recommend cooking the pizza for long enough so that the crust and cheese are on the verge of going from brown to black. You obviously don’t want to burn it because that will give a bitter taste. This timing depends on the oven temperature and the equipment. For me, I can finish a pizza on a pizza steel in about 5 minutes if my oven is very hot. Sometimes this might take up to 7-8 minutes if it is a bit cooler. Use your eyes to judge, you can always remove the pizza and spin it around for any spots cooking faster than others.
The Wrong Flour Was Used
Using a “00” graded pizza flour is not the best flour to use in a home oven. This flour is milled very fine and very white, and is designed by the Italian’s for cooking in an extremely hot wood fired oven. Because it’s so hot, the idea of using a flour that browns quickly would actually be worse.
So in a home oven, as it cooks much cooler, using a 00 flour will actually take the pizza longer to brown, and it will probably stay pale. Instead, use a regular bread flour which is better suited for cooking pizza in a conventional home oven. Some good brands are King Arthur in the US and Allinson in the UK.
The Oven Was Not Hot Enough
It’s best practice to get your oven as hot as possible for cooking pizza. The idea being that the heat makes the pizza rise quickly and give the crust a better texture. As we’ve mentioned about browning, the heat is the key to turning the sugars in the dough darker. On top of that, using a lower heat the extended cooking times will also dry a pizza out and make it tough.
So set your oven to the highest setting and let it preheat for at least 45 minutes. If you are using a pizza stone or steel then you should heat this in the oven from the start.
Inside the oven, we want the correct set up so that the base cooks evenly with the toppings and crust. No point having a burnt base and raw toppings or bland crust. This might take a bit of experimentation to get the oven shelf placement right. I typically use the shelf 2/3s of the way up the oven. This means it is near enough the heating element at the top of the oven, but easy enough to transfer the pizza inside from my pizza peel. Each oven is different and I have heard some people using the bottom shelves as the best – so experiment with yours.
Didn’t Use The Right Equipment
The best equipment to cook pizza in a home oven is a thick slab of mass that heats up prior to cooking – aka a pizza stone. There is also the pizza steel which is a similar tool, made out of steel to conduct heat even better.
They generally heat up the oven to a more stable high temperature, and really ensure the base cooks through well. Make sure they are preheated thoroughly, and you transfer the pizza to the oven with a pizza peel. This minimizes the time spend with the oven door open, which lets heat out.
Dough Was Over Fermented
I have never come across this problem but have read about it. The idea being that the fermentation has caused the yeast to consume so much sugar in the dough, that no more is left to cause browning. How common this is, is up for debate. It is quite clear if your dough has over fermented though. You will notice that the dough has risen up with gas and now fallen down from deflation. It smells strongly of brewed beer, and is weak and floppy to handle.
While this might not be the most common of issues, it might be one to note if you were wondering why a certain batch of dough didn’t make the best pizza.
Other Suggested Fixes
These kind of feel like you are addressing the symptom rather than going right to the cause. But for some people, their ingredients and set up, it can be hard to get the crust they want. Here are a few things you can do to try and help get a browner crust.
Ferment For Longer
If you want to go from a uniform brown to a surface of charred spots, you need to have longer fermentation. The idea behind this is slightly unknown to me, it may be the breakdown of sugars over fermentation time. Or it might be that the dough’s gluten becomes less tight, allowing thinner bubbles to form and brown quickly. Try using less yeast and fermenting the dough for 24-48 hours in the fridge.
As you can see, a nice airy crust will produce a crust that is charred dark brown.
Use Sugar In The Dough
Some recipes add sugar to a dough, claiming that is helps in the browning of the crust. But in reality is this true? Bread contains no sugar but you will often see a dark crust on bread. There is sugars and protein in the dough which should brown by themselves if given the right conditions. Check out my recipe for some good instructions on dough.
With that being said, you can try help this along further by adding some sugar to your dough. More sugar will naturally brown more, but it will also sweeten the dough. Try adding 2% of the flour weight in sugar as a starting point. You could increase this by a percentage point a time until you find it suits your taste.
If you don’t want to add sugar directly to the dough, you can also brush sugar on the crust. Mix some water and sugar and this can be used on the crust before it enters the oven. A bit like an egg wash on a pie, this can also help the crust deepen in colour.
There you have 5 reasons why your crust isn’t browning. Following some good instructions with the right flour and you should be able to get there. Adding sugar isn’t a necessary step, and is one I avoid now. But you can add a small amount if need be, and it will help the dough with little affect to the taste.